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Don’t Fear the Reaper

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Sandy Pearlman lived in Setauket, graduated from Stony Brook University

Sandy Pearlman. Photo from Ronni Hoffman

By Susan Risoli

Who wouldn’t want more cowbell? Samuel “Sandy” Pearlman — who may or may not have inspired the classic “Saturday Night Live” skit about the song “Don’t Fear the Reaper” — had a fever for living the creative life. The former Setauket resident, Stony Brook University alumnus, and celebrated record producer-lyricist-executive, died last week in California at 72. His friends remember a man whose imagination raced ahead while urging everyone else to keep up.

“He was a philosopher-king,” said Norm Prusslin, an SBU professor who first met him on campus in 1969, when Pearlman was managing a local band he called Soft White Underbelly. In this bunch of guys he met at his father’s pharmacy in Smithtown, Pearlman found musicianship that could turn his stories and poems into records. He loved to write about astrology, architecture, mythical figures and all manner of futuristic things, Prusslin recalled.

Blue Öyster Cult recorded “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in 1976. The song, written not by Pearlman, but by the band’s lead guitarist Donald Roeser a.k.a. Buck Dharma, was a track on the “Agents of Fortune” album recorded at New York City’s Record Plant. Pearlman co-produced the album. So … was he in fact the record producer parodied by Christopher Walken in the SNL skit?

Bassist Joe Bouchard said it’s possible.

“Sandy had that look, yeah,” he said, with a chuckle, of the leather jacket and dark glasses worn indoors.

“He was always very happy in the studio — excited to get the band to do their best.”
— Joe Bouchard

More important was Pearlman’s success at pushing artists to go just a bit further.

“He usually said he wanted more energy during recording,” Bouchard said. “He was always very happy in the studio — excited to get the band to do their best.”

Pearlman worked with other artists, producing the Clash’s breakthrough 1978 release “Give ‘Em Enough Rope.” He also produced the Dictators — a punk band many consider to be a sonic link between the Stooges and the MC5, and bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols — and he managed Black Sabbath.

Pearlman lived on and off in a house on Main Street in Setauket, a few doors down from the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. Prusslin said he had been hired to teach philosophy at SBU, but plans were curtailed by the cerebral hemorrhage Pearlman suffered in December of last year.

Longtime friends Robert Duncan, and his wife Roni Hoffman, saw Pearlman often. Duncan said Pearlman was especially proud of “Imaginos,” a project started as a poem and turned into a song circle album.

Although Blue Öyster Cult played on it, “Sandy always referred to it as his ‘solo record,’” Duncan said. “I think he would say that was his crowning achievement, when that record came out.”

Pearlman was always “the smartest guy in the room,” Bouchard said. “He knew that if you just do a pop song, it’ll be gone in a year. If you do a song with a little more depth to it, it’ll have some staying power.”